By all accounts, the Nationals should have been one of the primary contenders to win the National League in 2018. Barring a miracle they won't make the playoffs, despite their deepest rotation and lineup. In fact, there was only one truly significant subtraction from the team that won division titles in 2016 and 2017: Manager Dusty Baker.
Hence, the Curse of Dusty, as our own Jon Heyman so eloquently put it:
The Nats have underachieved so badly this year I am starting to wonder if in subsequent years we will be referring to the Curse of Dusty. I know this: no managerial firing ever was less deserved.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 22, 2018
Why was Dusty Baker so special? He may not have always managed with the advanced stats, but he had a truly impressive knack for knowing feeling out his players and knowing who to plug in when. No, his team's didn't perform in the postseason, but they got ever-so-close to advancing out of the first round and didn't have quite the performances they needed in a winner-take-all Game 5.
That's baseball. It happens.
When it happened twice, the higher-ups in Washington decided that Baker's time was up, even though the more influential voices in the locker room, including Jayson Werth, thought he got, "a rough shake."
"Dusty's one of my favorite managers," Werth told Heyman and Jenny Dell on Inside Baseball last week. "He's just a great human being. ... The one thing about Dusty, he does a lot for chemistry, he does a lot inside the clubhouse that people don't see. It's tough when you win that many games and win two divisions and you don't get out of the first round of the playoffs and you get let go? That's tough."
The key part of that quote is "chemistry," which the Nats seemed to have in prior seasons and seem to lack in 2018. Hence the internal witch hunt that precipitated Brandon Kintzler's trade to the Cubs and quick trigger reaction to Shawn Kelley's on-mound fit, which sent him packing to the A's. No sooner than those two experienced, late-inning relievers were gone did the Nats vaunted bullpen begin to get banged up, which in turn played a factor in the losing streak that led to the trades of Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.
And that was the white flag. Who says chemistry doesn't matter now?
Davey Martinez may very well end up being a terrific manager. He might even win a World Series in Washington. That's not incompatible with the knowledge that Baker deserved better than he got. Given the way this season has played out in the District, that should be pretty close to a universally accepted fact.